Football is Great. But Pay Attention to What’s Important This Thanksgiving

My Nana (in the middle) in her back yard. Cambridge, MA. A long long time ago.

It was Thanksgiving 2010 and the Patriots had drawn a softball matchup with the Detroit Lions. It was a 12:30 game and I was told we weren’t eating until 3:00. I could cram in most of the game, fly out of the house around 2:00 with the Pats presumably sitting on a triple digit lead and make it to my cousin’s house with time to spare. But somehow the sure thing blowout started to go wrong.

At 1:30 I started getting phone calls from my family wondering where the hell I was. They were “waiting for me” to eat. On top of that Detroit got an early jump on a sleepy New England team and went to the half with a 17-10 lead. I punched a few walls, begrudgingly put on a wrinkled sweater and took off up 95-N with a vengeance.

Screaming down the highway my brother called me, again, asking where I was. I told him I was almost there and right on cue missed the exit as I was hanging up the phone. I yelled and punched the steering wheel calming down just in time to hear Brady connect with Deion Branch for a game tying 79 yard touchdown over the radio. I gave the horn a celebration honk as I blew through a red light to make a U-turn at the bottom of an off-ramp somewhere.

The Pats had the ball on the Detroit 20 yard line as I screeched to a stop outside my cousins house. I punched the radio off and stormed into the house, putting on the blinders and heading straight for the crowd gathered around the TV. Brady his Branch right by the sticks for his second touchdown and the lead was ours.

I walked right past my Nana who was sitting sleepily in a rocking chair.

I took my ribbing from my family about being “late” and fired back that they should have just been honest about what time I was supposed to be there. I could have stopped and said hi to my Nana then and I didn’t. All of a sudden food was being served and it was time to sit down. I wasn’t proud of walking past her. She was always the first person I sought out to sit with and have the same conversation we always seemed to have in her later years. “Oh Michael!” she’d say laughing in a first generation Italian accent that doesn’t exist anymore “I mean Danny!” my brother’s name, “you startled me!” Somehow I was always startling her. “How are you?” I’m great Nana. “Where’s Danny… I mean Michael… is he coming?” Danny’s right over there. I’m Michael and I’m right here. She’d laugh and ask me if I was “going with any girls these days?” And then the whole thing would repeat itself, and she’d laugh every time. One missing hello wouldn’t be the end of the world.

I was there for a few hours as I watched her drift in and out of sleep. Even from across the room I could see that she was more lethargic than usual sitting in the rocking chair that would have been occupied by my grandfather who had passed away a year prior. Every time she woke up I was already in the middle of something else, and assumed that there was still plenty of time to go talk to her. She slept most of the day as the family swirled around her, talking loudly and clanging dishes pots and pans cleaning up the short lived Thanksgiving meal. Eventually it would finally be time to leave, so I woke my Nana up from her nap to say goodbye. “Oh Michael,” she said with an exhausted laugh “I don’t know why I’m so tired today.” I told her she should get her rest and that I just wanted to see how she was doing and say goodbye. She told me she was sorry she was so tired and she would talk to me next time.

The next morning I woke up to a phone call from my brother. My Nana had died. Sometime in the middle of the night she had gotten up walked down the hall and her body just gave out. We had no warning. She died in the house she had lived in her whole life steps away from the kitchen she had been born in. “I was born in this house, and I’ll die in this house,” was the one thing my always humble Nana would boast about. My family had done a lot to make sure she never had to live in a nursing home. And that night, in silent, she got her wish.

45-24 Patriots was the final score. I don’t think about that game much. I think about taking my first bus trips holding my Nana’s hand through Harvard Square and I know that for as long as I’m alive I’ll never get over not giving her a hug and a kiss the minute I walked in the door. Today I’ve got a fancy technology desk job at a place where my grandfather, her husband, once worked as a janitor. I hope somewhere she knows that it’s my way of telling her what I never got to articulate while she was here; that I appreciated all the love and sacrifice that she passed down so my brother and I could one day have a better life. The clock ran out, and I never got the chance.

It’s Thanksgiving and football is great. But make sure you give the most of your attention to the people and things that matter most. There won’t always be time.

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